When we briefly put aside all the rhetoric, propaganda and finger pointing on both sides, there have definitely been improvements in the relationship between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. One thing that helped improve the relationship was the death of Yasser Arafat, who continued to play both sides- he said publicly what people in the West wanted to hear all the while continuing to fund terrorism in the Occupied Territories. He was corrupt and apparently squirreled away tens of millions of dollars in foreign bank accounts- ill-gotten funds which could have been used to help improve the lives of his people.
But that was then and this is now. Is the Palestinian Authority perfect? Of course not. In fact, one of their biggest problems is that they have very little legitimacy given they are unelected and often seen as mere puppets of the West. There is perhaps some truth to that view, but there is also truth in acknowledging that unlike his predecessor, Abu Mazen has renounced terrorism, used diplomacy and politics to achieve some of his goals and together with Salaam Fayyad, engaged in institution-building in the territories. Despite this, they continue to be labeled “pro terrorist” and it is often said they refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist, despite that being untrue- they in fact did recognize Israel’s right to exist in peace and security.
Most significantly perhaps, the PA has demonstrated their commitment to fighting terrorism, crime and violence through unprecedented security cooperation with the IDF. From Haaretz today:
At a time when politicos are attacking the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, and when over and over again the claim is heard that there is no partner on the other side, it is worthwhile presenting events in the West Bank which, for political reasons, are intentionally ignored. I am referring to the very fruitful and successful cooperation between the Palestinians and the Israeli defense establishment, which developed secretly, and which is one of the reasons why Israeli citizens enjoy such a calm security situation of late.
Mahmoud Abbas, the president, and Salam Fayyad, the prime minister, fight terrorism. They do not make do with condemnation, but also take action to foil terror. At Military Intelligence they say that, unlike the approach of Yasser Arafat, now “the mouths and hearts of these two are in the same place.” Arafat spoke about an agreement with Israel but called for jihad and slipped funds to the Tanzim (the military wing of Fatah ) to fund terrorist attacks. When the current Palestinian Authority leadership condemns terrorist actions, it really means it.
Fayyad, whose economic reforms are well known, has also succeeded in improving substantially the work of the Palestinian security forces. Unlike Arafat, who used a method of divide and rule and incited the heads of the many security forces against each other, Fayyad created a hierarchical military-security apparatus which speaks with a single voice. With his approval, emphasis was placed on improving the personal security of the residents of the West Bank. The civilian police began effectively enforcing law and order. Traffic police even enter the refugee camps and vehicles stolen from Israel are returned after a short while.
But topping it all, at least from Israel’s point of view, is the success of the Palestinian security forces in uncovering terrorist plots. And what is no less important is that they report to Israel every time they make such a discovery. Regular coordination meetings are held between IDF officers, up to the level of GOC, and their counterparts in the PA security forces. What characterizes these meetings, contrary to those in the past, is that the Palestinian officers have ceased to talk politics and are focusing only on military-professional subjects.
The Qalqilyah incident, which took place just over two years ago, can be seen as a watershed in the PA’s fight against terrorism. A cell, which left Qalqilyah and made it to Tel Aviv, failed to set off a bomb. The Shin Bet learned that the members of the cell returned to Qalqilyah, and a decision was made to impose a curfew on the city. Extensive searches for the suspects, carried out by the IDF and the Shin Bet security service, failed.
At some point, Palestinian officers contacted the IDF and announced that they had located the suspects and that they had surrounded one of the homes in the city. The IDF decided not to intervene. Following a firefight, in which Palestinian policemen were killed or injured, the terrorists were killed. Hamas, of course, strongly condemned the PA, accusing it of butchering Palestinians on behalf of Israel. Nonetheless, in an unusual move, the PA did not allow a mourners’ tent to be set up by Hamas, and Salam Fayyad handed out commendations to the officers who participated in the operation.
It would be nice if the U.S. media pointed things like this out once in a while.
What is interesting about the anti-Palestinian rhetoric coming from some in the Israeli government, the U.S. government and U.S. commentators is there is simply no denying that Abu Mazen and Salaam Fayyad are the most moderate, pro-Western Palestinian leaders ever. In fact, if elections were held tomorrow, it very well could result in a change in leadership which is less accommodating of the West and not as moderate.
It’s also interesting that since renouncing terrorism as a tactic, as the U.S. and Israel have long requested the Palestinians to do, the U.S. and Israel are almost more upset by the diplomatic, political and nonviolent methods used by the Palestinian Authority and their supporters. This is indeed ironic and something which the U.S. media never points out.
Of course, Hamas is a different story altogether but despite all the heated rhetoric coming from all sides, everyone knows that any peace agreement will not have any practical effect unless the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are united politically. I certainly don’t want to be in the position of defending Hamas, because I abhor their tactics. That said, while we like to hold Israel out as the unique exception to every rule, there are many examples of cooperation between armed factions and political resistance, so long as both sides were/are willing to make concessions to reach the ultimate objective- for example Sein Fein and the IRA. Also, currently, the U.S. is clearly having talks with some members of the Taliban, despite the fact that the Taliban certainly hasn’t, as of yet, renounced violence against the United States. All I’m saying is that to completely rule out ever having a dialogue with Hamas is a mistake. Yes, they should have to meet Quartet principles but the international community also has to be smart about it. As with the IRA, they [Hamas] will have to be convinced that it is in their interest to meet certain conditions and that means the U.S. and Israel are going to have to be a bit more flexible.